Health tips by Barmer: Gentle pushes to encourage healthy behavior

Health tips by Barmer: Gentle pushes to encourage healthy behavior

Often, we resolve to eat healthier, take the stairs instead of the lift, or go jogging – and then we don’t do it. Discipline alone is not always enough to make us reach for an apple instead of a croissant. Because how we make a decision also depends on what options we have: if the croissant is right in front of us and there’s no apple in sight, it’s obvious that we won’t necessarily be able to resist.

Nudging tricks the brain

Through nudging, however, we can outsmart ourselves a little. The word nudging means to gently push someone towards something. It’s not about dictating, but about subtly offering alternative courses of action that discreetly lead to the healthier option: The eye-catching arrows on the floor point to the stairs instead of the lift. Mineral water is placed at eye level, while soft drinks are stored on the lowest shelf. The lines in front of the cash register show where I should wait to keep a safe distance. Such “nudging” can influence human behaviour. Research shows that people who are made aware of, for example, healthy food through nudging are more likely to choose the healthier options.

Nudging for better health in the university or in companies

Nudging can be very useful, especially in workplace health promotion. Those who come across elaborate salad bars and fruit baskets in the canteen first will more often opt for the fresh fare. If standing desks are available in offices, they are more likely to be used. The goal of nudging in companies is to make the safe and healthy decision the easier decision, without pressure. Such deliberate nudges work best when they appear light and playful or strengthen the sense of community.

Self-nudging: How to outsmart yourself

Research teams from the Max Planck Institute and the University of Helsinki recommend that you also use nudging techniques on yourself:

  • Take your sports bag to work/university and get active right after you finish for the day. Once you’re on the sofa, it’s hard to get back up.
  • This also works when you work/study from home: if you put on sports clothes straight away, you’ll be more motivated to exercise.
  • Place running shoes in front of your bed: they will discreetly remind you to go for a jog in the morning.
  • When eating, choose a smaller plate. You can fit less food on it and still feel full.
  • A large water carafe on your desk shows you how much you have already drunk and encourages you to top up your glass when it’s empty.
  • Place your fruit bowl within sight and reach. Sweet snacks go into the bottom drawer, or even better: into a cupboard at the other end of the room.
  • Use your smartphone cleverly: it can remind you when it’s time to go to bed or you’ve exceeded your daily screen time.
  • Health apps notify you when it’s time for a little exercise or relaxation session. For example, the 7Mind app reminds you to take a daily break for meditation.
  • Things are easier with others: arrange to hold meetings with friends outdoors as you go for a walk together.